Cardiovascular diseases in women: new insights
If research results for men and women are swept together, you will fail to spot relevant information for detecting heart diseases at an early stage. This is evident from the PhD research conducted by Aisha Gohar with the support of the Heart Foundation.
Aisha, PhD student at the Julius Center, obtained her doctoral degree on January 16, 2018 in the University Hall in Utrecht. She discovered new differences between men and women with arterial calcification and heart failure. She also demonstrates that heart research often neglects differences between men and women.
Only 15% of the 360 studies that Aisha reviewed, considered male-female differences. That is less than 1 in 7 studies. These studies concerned substances in the blood (biomarkers) that signal the risk of cardiovascular diseases. This low percentage has consequences for men as well, because it makes it more difficult to identify substances that are particularly relevant to men.
Signal substance in blood
Aisha discovered that a certain biomarker (GDF-15) in women with calcification in their carotid artery is associated with the risk of serious heart diseases. This does not appear to apply to men. Aisha: "If you combine the male and female results you will not see a connection between the signal substance and heart diseases. So you miss an opportunity to detect heart diseases at an early stage in women."
Identify heart failure sooner
She also discovered male-female differences in the diagnosis of a certain form of heart failure. The heart muscle is stiff and thickened in that case, and unable to fill properly with blood. "During my doctoral research, I developed a model that helps general practitioners make an earlier and better diagnosis. In women, it seems sufficient to mainly consider their age and certain blood pressure medications, whereas for men it makes sense to also consider whether they are overweight, for instance."
Requirement of the Heart Foundation
Greater distinction between men and women in heart research is one of the top priorities of the Heart Foundation. Nowadays, scientists who apply for a grant are required to advise in advance how they will study male-female differences. Once the research is completed, the Heart Foundation checks whether the relevant scientists kept well enough to their planned approach.
Overcoming the knowledge backlog
The Heart Foundation funds research to close the knowledge gap about cardiovascular diseases in women. Aisha's research belongs to one of these projects: Queen of Hearts. You can read more on this on the website of the Heart Foundation.